President's Column

The Las Vegas Challenge

Paul T. P. Wong
Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C. Psych.
Trent University

A number of people have asked me: “Why go to Las Vegas for a Planning Retreat for the International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM)? Don’t you think that Las Vegas is the wrong place to look for meaning?”

My answer has been: “Las Vegas has warm, sunny weather and bargain hotel rates.” By the way, I may also add that the founder of logotherapy, Dr. Viktor Frankl, had three wishes—one of which was gambling. (His other two wishes were being the first man to climb the highest mountain and being a neurosurgeon).

I really did not have a satisfactory answer until I read Thomas Homer-Dixon’s (2000) book entitled “The Ingenuity Gap” during my Christmas holiday. His penultimate chapter is on Las Vegas.

During Homer-Dixon’s visit to Las Vegas, the Comdex convention was taking place. Comdex is perhaps the world’s largest computer, communication, and software trade show with more than two hundred thousand attendees. Here are some of his observations:

Comdex and Las Vegas make a fitting combination: Together, they mingle computers, gambling, and the fantasies of a postadolescent playland…The different worlds of computers, gambling, and fantasy fit together surprisingly seamlessly, as if they reflect each other’s essences in some kind of triangular relationship. Gambling is, after all, about living a fantasy of sudden riches; computers allow us to create virtual worlds that erase the line between reality and fantasy; and the jackpots of the information revolution have produced the new billionaires of the 1980s and 1990s. (p. 314)

Las Vegasizing America

Las Vegas, in short, stands as a monument to what can be accomplished when human ingenuity (human capital) is wedded to big money (financial capital). This union has created a glamorous new world that can feed people’s fantasy for instant wealth and instant pleasure. Las Vegas is the capital of impossible dreams.

But do we want to embrace the Las Vegasizing of America as our vision for this new millennium? Can Las Vegas transform the “desert condition” of human existence? Just watch the empty faces of those lonely souls in front of the slot machines, and you will know the answer.

We desire wealth without asking to what end. We pursue material gain that cannot satisfy our inner void. Continued economical growth needs to be fuelled by our insatiable greed and conspicuous consumption. But there are inherent limitations and dangers to Las Vegasizing America:

  • Greed is good only for the “lucky few” but bad for the majority.
  • Immense wealth and power without a moral compass often lead to self-destruction.
  • Un-ending economic growth may widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
  • Social problems, such as poverty and racism, grow bigger when we seek refuge in a fantasyland.
  • The bubble of ever-rising expectations will eventually burst.
  • Prosperity without a purpose contributes to addiction (including gambling).
  • Electronically mediated connections without community lead to isolation and alienation.
  • Rapid technological innovation increases stress and contributes to dehumanization.

The New Counter-Culture

The Las Vegas challenge is the need for a bold, alternative vision for our civilization. The challenge is to create a positive culture on the strength of social capital and spiritual capital, which are essential for healthy personal and community development. This is where INPM can play a role.

The main purpose of the Planning Retreat is to discuss how to take up this gigantic challenge. If a huge complex of resort hotels and casinos can be created out of a desert as a result of Bugsy Siegel’s vision, so a large network of positive individuals and transformative communities can be created as a result of INPM’s vision and endeavour.

At last year’s International Conference on Searching for Meaning in the New Millennium, I envisioned a positive revolution to counter-act the dominant paradigm of unlimited economic growth through technological innovation and global competition.

There are already telltale signs of this new counter-culture: the grass-roots movement of random kindness, the widespread hunger for spirituality and meaning, and the longing for belonging to a transformative community. INPM has been on the forefront of this growing movement.

The Vision of INPM

The mission statement of INPM is—“Health, Spirituality and Peace through Meaning”. Building primarily on the seminal work of Viktor Frankl, we want to promote meaningful living as one of the promising pathways to health, spirituality and peace. There is already considerable support to this approach (Wong & Fry, 1998). Our objectives include:

  1. Facilitate individuals’ quest for meaning and spirituality.
  2. Facilitate organizational transformation to become meaningful work places and communities.
  3. Develop social and spiritual capital through promoting meaningful and responsible living in all age groups.
  4. Promote research on positive psychology and psychotherapy with a focus on meaning and spirituality.
  5. Integrate science and religion in enhancing our understanding of meaning and spirituality.
  6. Co-ordinate and co-operate with all individuals and groups to serve the needs of the personal growth and community building.
  7. Build bridges between cultures and religions through meaningful dialogues and understanding the commonality of the humanity.
  8. Serve as catalyst, as a grand central station to inject humanity and spirituality into an increasingly digital, materialistic culture.

The above positive vision will provide a much-needed balance to a society obsessed with economic growth and materialistic gains. There are already indications, from research as well as clinical observations, progress without a purpose will not improve the quality of life. We believe that it is high time to recognize the importance of spiritual and social capital.

Spiritual and Social Capital

This new vision is built on the foundation of two Vienna giants—Viktor Frankl and Alfred Adler. The former emphasizes spiritual capital, while the later focuses on social capital.

Spiritual capital encompasses meaning and purpose, values and conscience, choice and responsibility, self-transcendence and the spiritual dimension. Frankl believes that confidence in the defiant human spirit, coupled with faith in God, enables people to maintain positive meaning in spite of pain and suffering.

Social capital includes civil duties, close ties with family and community, compassion, social justice, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity. Adler believes that social interest is the cornerstone to a meaningful life, because we have a primary need to belong and serve others, and our need for personal significance comes from making a significant contribution to the group.

Ultimately, solutions for many social and individual problems cannot be found without resorting to spiritual and social capital. When these two resources are depleted, we will experience more problems in adapting to the social changes brought about by technological innovation.

INPM promotes the development of spiritual and social capital through our website, publications, conferences and networking. We aspire to be a major life force for positive transformation—this is our Las Vegas challenge. We hope that all of our partners will work together to rise to this challenge.